Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What they Loved

They loved the motel and they loved standing by the check-in counter, hands around the other, sometimes standing behind the other, hands on an ass.

They loved the motel bed, how crisp and neatly made it was, and they loved the fresh sheets and the fresh starts, they loved the little glasses, always two, with sanitized paper around the lip as if they were the first two, Adam and Eve, to drink from the cup.

They loved the clean, white towels, and they loved the ashtrays and that they were allowed to smoke, that they’d pay extra for that, and the big windows that opened wide and let them puff that smoke out to the bay

They loved the sound of cargo boats, the loading and the unloading, the sounds of commerce because they were a part of that commerce

had passed credit cards and photo IDs, triple A cards over the counter to the young Asian girl at the desk. Yes they said eagerly and nodded their heads, yes to the king sized bed and the ashtrays. Yes to the continental breakfast, the HBO and the complimentary morning paper.

They loved that the concierge never met their eye, never scrutinized, never even said goodbye as they silently slipped through the lobby three hours later and returned home, leaving beds un-maid and towels only slightly used.

They loved the privilege of being anonymous, of not having to answer questions. They loved the freedom of not needing much; a bed, an ashtray, a view of the bay; a window that opened, a working heating vent.

They loved the privilege and the freedom of not needing to answer to each other, not needing the details of where the other had been, what they had said and what they were going to do next.

They appreciated instead the sensible simplicity of a button, a zipper. Tongues were magical, there was nothing to lie about. Curfews were vague. Yes there were people who cared about them a few miles away but they would return to them soon enough.

They loved the peace of this and especially the relief after buttons came undone and boots were tossed and thrown.

They knew how to make the sounds and they knew some dirty words too. They would come hungry but they didn’t care what they cooked up, it was always what they wanted.

They never noticed the terrible brown fabric curtains or the funny little notes left on bathroom counters about forgotten toothbrushes and q-tips at the front desk

They appreciated the hotel’s concern for everything they’d brought and everything they’d forgotten, everything they’d leave behind after their three hours, after they’d mussed the bed and made the sounds, after they’d squeezed out every last bit of tension and stress.

All the things of the day.

The edges they walked, the money they owed, the people who loved them who they could not always properly love back. The lies they told and the people they paid to listen to those lies at $145 an hour. The silent prayers they uttered, the pills that helped them sleep, the tiny goodies they littered throughout their day to get them through.

This was their chance, their time

And they never wasted it

Never tried to fix the other, and if talk of a son’s basketball game went on too long or a story about a remodel glitch went on and on, one would silence the other simply with a smile and a hand placed on a hand, that might slip up to a chest or inside a blouse, and they would remember where and who they were and why they had come to the Extended Stay Hotel or the Phoenix Motel or the Comfort Inn or even the Red Couch.

Time was of the essence, there were bridges to cross and spouses to return to, surely a carpool to drive in the morning, and they loved those things too.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The 23rd Floor

He would often say, “I love you,” with just that hint of something lingering at the end of the sentence so that his statement became a question. Did she love him too?

In the beginning and for many years, sometimes still he would ask her to say it, “tell me you love me,” he would say, and she would say it to make him happy, a little like giving in to sex if she was tired because then he would be happy for a little while and she could rest her efforts.

The other night in bed he told her how he loved her, something she can’t remember now, but it shocked her, “You love me like that?” she said, astonished, not realizing that he felt that way. She wasn’t concerned, but felt silenced, unsure of what to do or say and so she put her hand on his chest and moved her body into the spoon of his and into the crook of his arm.

They were lying in her parent’s old bed, the bed her parents had abandoned for the new one a few years earlier. They knew this bed as they knew the house; the hot tub, the bathrooms, which mirrors were best for sex. They knew how to live together, knew how to pack a suitcase for a trip, how to make a driving plan. They could manage the children and get to places on time. They were friends with her whole family. Everyone liked them, and they liked each other, but his statement startled her.

Now she remembered, yes, they had been at her aunt and uncle’s house the night before and he was standing on the balcony of their 23rd floor penthouse looking out onto the lights of Los Angeles. She was drinking a gin and tonic inside with her uncle, who was on his second or third.

Her husband was on the balcony, and what he was thinking, he said, “was how easy it would be to leap off, and if I did, I’d want to grab your hand and take you with me.” And then he’d connected it to love, that she was the great love of his life, and this combination of the leaping and the love, the romantics of that, it was so perfect for him, just like him to pull pain and love together like that, which is when she put her hand on his chest, maybe to soothe him or rest him into sleep or back into himself, to take the focus away from her, the object, the loved one, the person he would reach for as he fell.

She wasn’t concerned, mostly shocked. “You love me like that?” she asked as she put her hand on his chest. It was all she could do.

And a little while later when he asked if she would like to make love, she heard the voice inside of herself say no, and the no stood there like a child in a great hall, a great big echo of no

Until she broke it weakly with a yes
Because she could
Because he was standing all alone on the balcony of the 23rd floor of a penthouse in a Los Angeles high rise looking down on Wilshire blvd and the city of angels and a million cars racing back and forth and nightlights and swimming pools and money exchanging hands a million times a second right below him.

And because he came from farmland where the only thing you could count on was the smell of manure or the shake of someone’s hand and the way they looked you in the eye. And it’s not that she pitied him and it’s not that she worried, but he was alone, alone in a way she would never allow herself to be.

“Yes,” she said weakly, and her hand on his chest came alive and it began to travel. This was what was called for.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What Keeps Me Awake at Night

I may have time to get to the Girl Scout store to get the new troupe numbers and Girl Scout USA insignia.

I wonder if those jeans are worth patching.

Is this middle aged spread or have I been eating too many nuts?

Nuts are good, right?

229 days till summer. Still time to work toward that bikini

My feet don’t hurt that much.

You know, my shoulder feels exactly like it did during the racquetball days.

Damn mosquitoes.

I don’t need any more new clothes.

I should make some soup this week.

I loved Yvonne’s white t.shirt and long flowered jacket. She is so beautiful and neurotic.

I felt pretty at the party but no one mentioned it. Prettier than I’d felt in a long time. Are they just used to my prettiness or am I not pretty at all?

Do I have any underwear that he hasn’t seen?

We should be getting that call from the basketball coaches soon. I hope practice isn’t on girl scouts night.

Get to the bookstore.

If I don’t invite more than two people over at a time we can all drink wine out of wine glasses.

I hope they take those boots back.

Mosquitoes. Will they retreat as it gets colder?

What if I run out of money?

Chocolate bacon, who would have thunk it?

I can feel my hips.

My breasts are like puddles. Exactly like my mothers.

I think I said goodnight to him.

One day my father will die.

Should we drive or fly?

Hawaii sounds nice. People take trips they can't afford all the time. They use their credit cards.

The house really is tilting. Maybe that’s why I wake up dizzy every morning.

200 X 180 =

What else can I offer my students? Will they hate me if I give myself a raise?

Get bread.

Don’t forget lunch for Friday.
Call Jan. Call Tom.

I’m too nice.
But not to him. I’m not nice enough to him. I should have said goodnight.

Laundry soap.

I wonder when my haircut is.
I hope he says yes to ice skating with the girl scouts. What was I thinking?
I should get outside more.
My feet don’t hurt that bad.

Maybe the school girl skirt for Halloween.

R. will meet P. She knows about him now. I’ll give her the heads up that he's coming over.

Should I tell P. she knows? No. Some things are better left unsaid.

NANO month.

I could get up early and write.

Damn mosquitoes.
I wonder if he really will get a job.
His feet feel nice.
This room is tilting.
Could I really teach in Cabo?
I hope they take those boots back.
I think I can handle two days of racquetball a week.
Maybe my shoulder hurts from lifting.
I wonder if Janie is mad at me?
I hope that check comes soon.
I’ll stop when that bottle is empty.
The cat will get the mouse.
I’ll call her tomorrow. She’ll understand. I know it’s been a week but she never calls me on mine either.

Sometimes it’s a curse to have such good ideas. I could write that whole penis book in a NANO month. My mom says I could sell that puppy for a million dollars.

Maybe I’m not that smart.
I’m nice, but not that smart.
I am tired though.
I wonder if I’ll write another book.
Do I have to?
His feet feel nice.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Do's and Don'ts

She called breathless and excited, certain that you and she, your lover’s wife, should write the book on open marriage. It would be fun, she said over the phone, and marketable too, with sidebars of do’s and don’ts, tips and etiquette, that sort of thing.

You’d thought about it of course, both of you were writers and in a position to actually share something. Nearly three years into this and still on your feet, still married and thriving. You might actually have something to offer people.

But a part of you worried that if you did start waving a flag the whole thing would come crashing down on you. You’d lose your marriage or lose your lover and then all your sadness and disappointment with life, your real fears would surface and you would have to accept a truer truth, which is that open marriage is great if you’re getting what you want, if somebody wants to be your baby. But without that, say your husband is having the time of his life with his girlfriend, but the guy you’re with disappears, well, so much for those helpful tips and those all those clever little do’s and don’ts.

At least she wasn’t calling because you’d done something wrong, because her husband had come home last night in a bad way. No, you’d left him in good shape and he was completely capable of making breakfast for the boys and taking them to school. Sure you’d made an impression on him, but you hadn’t left a mark. And as she spoke, all chatty and excited about the book idea, it appeared that she still hadn’t gotten wind of the other little tryst that had happened the night before with your husband’s lover and her husband, a former love of yours and who is closely associated with and the sometimes lover of your lover's wife.

And while it's true that you didn’t break any rules, you don’t mean to hurt people and you don’t want to lie. And so you hoped that you could simply have a whole conversation with her about the bestselling book the two of you would write about open marriage; all those sage words of advice; how to make it work and how not to fuck it up. You hoped to have just this conversation, wondering as you listened to her go on about the book, whether your friendship, if the book project could weather the complexity of this whole thing; everything said and left unsaid; all the tiny lies and the way we protect ourselves and each other.

You wondered whether her husband, a man of 60, would be here in ten years or whether his heart would give way the way his own father’s did at 65. You wonder if that happens whether you’ll have such good news to spread about your open marriage. Maybe you’ll know more about loss then. Maybe you’ll become at expert on that.

Monday, October 08, 2007


I can’t write about the way I stuffed my face last night, my early dinner of potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, how I kept coming downstairs for more and the shame of getting into bed knowing that there was no way I could let my husband touch me, even though it was probably a good night, even though we’d been talking about it, even though it had been weeks, even though I can’t actually remember the feeling of him inside of me.

The relief of the movie in bed, our feet touching, then soon after, the relief of his snores, that another night had passed and I had escaped the intimacy, the awkwardness of touch and the movement toward each other.

I can’t write about how I’ve been wondering if the open marriage isn’t just terribly convenient, that the philosophy may be poppycock, that business about how the four square walls of marriage are limiting, too tight. That business about how other people allow you to express the untapped, that one person can’t be it all for you.

Lately I wonder if having a lover isn’t just a terribly convenient way to drift from each other, both of us a little high, a little drugged in the anticipation of the tryst, the way my step became just a little lighter when P. said he could make the Wednesday night date, how I found myself taking the first full breath of the day.

I don’t know if I can write about how difficult it is to move toward my husband, not for any good reason except that I am comfortable in my defense, tucked as I am behind my great wall. How right, how disappointed.

If they sliced me open they would find road blocks and ditches, and old refrigerators and ovens that people had ditched along the banks and which now blocked the flow of fresh water.

When my lover called to say Wednesday I think I giggled. I sounded like a child. I realized I could make it through today and tomorrow and the next day.

What I can’t write about are those dead refrigerators getting rusty and rained on and clogging up the river. I find myself unwilling to look or uncover. I find myself drifting and blaming and eating potatoes.

What I am unwilling to write about, what I find impossible to write about is the feeling each night of getting into bed with a man I care about but do not know how to move toward. The other night I wanted him to touch me. I wanted to ask but I felt guilty. It was only the pleasure I sought, not the connection. It could have been anyone’s hands, and this is a very hard thing to write about.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Would you like to write with me?

I teach wild writing and I have a couple of spots open in my weekly classes. If you live in Northern California close to Berkeley and you're interested in joining my wild writing class, email me at and I'll tell you all about it. Classes start in September.

More real blogging soon, promise.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Post Thoughts

Something about my last post, as honest and as soberly written as it was, scared me. I read it and re-read it. I checked for signs of smugness and inflated stability, but I couldn’t find any; I wouldn’t change a word. And yet I woke up feeling cautious this morning, a feeling that this whole thing could come back to bite me.

I think it was the way I ended the post, the way I so soberly stated the possibility of a marriage crumbling that stuck in my craw. I don’t take that lightly, though the possibility is there in even the best looking marriages.

Last year, when I first got together with my lover, his wife made a comment early on when she realized that the feelings her husband and I shared were bigger than just the sex she had expected us to get together for.

“I hope I’m not going to lose my marriage over this,” she told me over the phone. And I said, “You might lose your marriage, but not over this.” Which is to say the ending of a marriage won’t probably, in our case, be the result of our open marriages, but instead because of the marriage’s own trajectory over time; the issues, the potholes and the changes couples go through.

You could blame the open marriage but I think that would be a mistake.

So it’s not the open marriage that scares me so much, though it does trigger painful experiences, which is why you have to have your eyes wide open if you’re going to do this. As I said in my earlier post, because it operates in the theater of love and intimacy we bump up against our deep woundings all the time; mommy and daddy stuff and who loved you and who didn’t and whether you got enough. But the opportunity here is to wake up, to realize that we each create dramas and stories in our life that mirror our deeper work, our wounding, so that we have something tangible to work it out with. The mistake most of us make is confusing the story and the drama with the deeper work. The mistake we make is hoping that other people will make changes that will make us more comfortable, rather than realizing that we created the very world we inhabit. Manipulating other people to change only keeps us from doing our deeper work.

So if I’m scared about anything, it’s that I’ll get trapped in the story instead of recognizing the deeper river of my work that runs underneath the drama. If I’m scared of anything it’s that I’ll focus on the ways people aren’t loving me enough and I’ll forget that my job is to show up for myself, because people will never love you the way you want to be loved, even if they love you very much.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Regarding Open Marriage, Just a Few Things

If you can, you must allow yourself to fall in love a little. That’s where the juice is. You have to be willing to have a little skin in the game. Sex without love falls flat after a while. It can’t only be a good time; you have to be willing to unpeel yourself, put down your guns and not be so pretty all the time.

Managing that love can be tricky; to care, but not too much; to feel, but not be overwhelmed with feeling; to be able to remember in detail what he feels like inside of you, but still be able to make summer camp sandwiches and take a walk with your husband, to reach for his hand.

You can’t want to leave your marriage. If you’re looking for a supplicant or for a way out, you’re going to be sad. If you want to be trusted you can’t want to take someone’s husband away. Sure you want them to fall in love with you a little, but you can’t be hoping that your lover will solve all your problems or be your new daddy.

Which means that you need to work on your marriage and work on yourself. Open marriage can’t replace that work. Ideally your lover wakes up something sparky and delightful in you, something your own marriage has a more difficult time conjuring because of the 101 things that make it so perfectly domestic; kids and dishes and bills and did you water the garden? And didn’t I ask you to return those videos? The idea is to wake up and to bring that awakening home to your marriage and to yourself.

And speaking of waking up, Triggers R Us, which is to say, you will get hurt or confused or be full of longing or the desire to strangle someone. We’re in the land of sex and intimacy now, and if you thought you had that shit handled, if you thought 16 years of marriage gave you an E Ticket that bypassed heartache think again brother. You will return to every issue you ever had about who loved you and who didn’t. You will find yourself checking your cell phone. You will be distracted, sometimes unable to sleep, you will swoon and it will remind you at times, especially in the beginning, of your teenage years. But mostly you will return to the uncooked parts of yourself, which means welcome home to some very juicy unfinished business and a chance to grow.

Tell the truth and stay in excellent communication with the players; your spouse, your lover, his spouse. Check in. Ask permission. Email or call to thank the spouse of your lover after a date. Try not to take your time with your lover for granted. His wife is the gatekeeper; if they’re doing well she’s more likely to share him, but anything can happen, so play nice. Your job is to return your lover back to his wife neither dented nor disturbed; you can make an impression, but you shouldn’t leave a mark.

Spouses have veto power. You have a date you’ve been patiently waiting for, but there’s a crisis at home or a change of heart. Let it go, the marriages come first. Less is more. Let days and weeks pass, then find your lover. A major part of what makes this special is the unavailability, the great passionate gaps in between your time together. Want it, long for it, let the hunger happen, that’s what keeps it alive, because in the end we’re just people and our lovers are not so incredibly different from the people we married, which is to say over time we all become tedious. So enjoy that you don’t pay bills or do laundry or share a carpool schedule with this person. Enjoy the small amounts of time you get to see each other, savor those sessions and leave your date just a little hungry.

It’s all good until it isn’t, and each person has to make that decision for themselves. Sharing your spouse, getting intimately involved with another person is not for everyone and if it’s not for you, make a change. Get out and hopefully with everything you came with. But you can’t say. It’s a slippery slope, a Pandora’s Box, and there are no guarantees, but then there really isn’t in marriage either.

These are just a few things for now.

Saturday, June 30, 2007


On Friday afternoon they told us to come to the retreat the next morning dressed in something that our parents wouldn’t have let us out of the house wearing and something that we were still uncomfortable in.

Nine months earlier I had bought a schoolgirl outfit online because I’d wanted one for a long time and because I knew that somewhere in me a naughty girl lurked, though in all of my 46 years I had never road-tested her.

I’d seen my friend Jane dressed in something like that once; a short kilt and motorcycle boots. That was the look I loved; hip, sexy, confident and just this side of bad. But Jane was tall and skinny and had legs for days. I was shorter and stockier, muscular. I didn’t think I could carry it with the same appeal. People might grimace exactly the way I grimaced at women who dressed too young or whose own bodies spilled over their tight clothing. But my relationship with P. had unleashed something utterly free in me. The first night we were together I danced naked for him. I’d never done that for anyone. I still remember the smile on his face as I moved; total appreciation. And it had been like that ever since; I could take risks with him, it was safe and it was time to explore the schoolgirl.

My outfit came a week later. The black and red kilt was short, see-your-underwear-short, and the black top was totally pirate—just a loose piece of black fabric that tied my breasts together in a big knot, and which exposed my whole tummy. I waited until my family had left the house and I tried the ensemble on in the full-length mirror in my bedroom.

Big mistake. What was I thinking? It was so wrong. My legs were too muscular, too stocky and my stomach wasn’t sexy and concave like the girls in the catalogue. How could I have even thought I could carry this off? I was so ashamed that I took it off immediately and stuffed it in a cruel ball under a chair cushion in my bedroom. Out of sight, out of mind for nine months until last weekend, until the workshop, until I put it on, zipping up the little skirt and tying the pirate top tight. I pulled on my black cowboy boots and looked at myself in the mirror. This was it. This was the outfit I wouldn’t be caught dead in.

People at the workshop were kind. Black men love my “thick” legs, “we just do,” a really handsome man my age said. Another man whispered that my legs were stunning. A couple of women said I was sexy. And as nice as those comments were, mostly what I tasted that day was the kind of exhilarating freedom that comes from unleashing something that has been terribly, horribly, miguidedly repressed. I was enfused me with aliveness and after about an hour I had forgotten about everyone else, forgotten what I looked like to others and was instead appreciating the freedom of my strong body in those sexy clothes.

And so what happened, what I saw was that within a day I went from being a girl who wanted to wear a short skirt and boots, but who couldn’t because she didn’t have the body, to becoming a girl who could wear a short skirt and boots. It was very different from “trying” to love my body with affirmations, something I’d been working at for years. This was me taking an action, a contradictory action that had me live into a different story about me and my body, and in doing so, I made it real.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Light

It was a surprise when he told my sister and I, that if we wanted dessert we had to stand near his side of the table with our legs together. He said if he could see a space between our thighs, if he could see the light, then we could have some ice cream.

If I had known this was going to happen maybe I wouldn’t have eaten so much at dinner, but I'm sure I ate a lot; my mother made so much good food and I always remember being hungry. Up until this time I had never thought about my thighs, or any part of my body with concern, so I got up and stood by his chair with my little sister.

It was over so fast. There was no light between my thighs, and I didn’t get dessert.

Now I stand at that same table for every meal, constantly checking and monitoring myself to see if I deserve to eat. I pay for the food I do eat by working out nearly everyday, and going without food when I can.

Monday, June 11, 2007

This is what she said

She said, “You fucked up. So what? So fucken what?”

That’s what my 70-year-old mother said to me last week on the morning after the night of the two monster martinis, the drinks which I hadn’t seen coming as I drove down the mountain to Los Angeles, nervous and excited as I was to see my high school friends after a 30-year separation. Didn’t see it coming because it was a beautiful, clear day in the basin, and because I’d just spent a week at a writing retreat where I rock and rolled my way through my writing and came away feeling whole and strong and trustworthy. And that first martini was excellent and by the second one I had forgotten that I hadn’t eaten, forgotten how strong a martini can be, forgotten that when you haven’t seen friends for 30 years and one of them has just finished telling you that her 25-year marriage might be over you don’t launch into the big talk about your open marriage and your lovers, no, you don’t do that. And I forgot that my mother was waiting for me back home a few miles away, had lit candles and opened a bottle of wine for the date we had made for the later part of the evening, the date she’d promised me because I’d asked for it, because I don’t live in her town, because I love her. Instead I came home a martini mess, and leaning against the door of her office, I slurred, “Drunk. Can’t talk. Bed.”

In the morning, sober and sorry because I had to leave town and say goodbye to my mother. Sober and ashamed because I had capped off an amazing week with a big drunk and had been insensitive, I thought, to my friend. Tired and hung over and wondering what in me had to keep maiming things, making things harder.

I came into her room to apologize, but she looked at me and she lifted my chin in her hands and she said,

“Honey, you fucked up. So what? So fucken what? The world doesn’t need anymore perfect people walking around, and the world doesn’t need anyone dragging a brick tied around their neck feeling guilty and ashamed either. Who the hell cares what you did? No one!”

That’s what my mother said.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Trust Me

You are in a dressing room in the little girl’s department at Macy’s in San Francisco and you are crouching and whispering into your 9-year-old daughter’s ear, “trust me,” you say, your arms wrapped around her, your mouth breathing warm into her ear, “honey, trust me, I promise you that I am right here.”

And you are, right here in a large, white dressing room on mother’s day with your two daughters who are shopping for party dresses and shoes to wear to an upcoming bat mitzvah. This is you loving your daughters, this is you shopping with them on a Sunday in the city, a treat, a gesture of connection. This is what mothers do with their daughters.

But now after three frilly dresses that have either cut her off at the waist or been impossible to zip or not gotten over her head, your youngest daughter has started a rapid descent to a place that you have only seen twice before with her, and one that you are not entirely prepared for now. You hadn’t readied yourself, hadn’t seen it coming, didn’t remember the rhythm of the thing, just how dangerous a dressing room can be.

And so if you thought this was going to be a simple shopping trip for party dresses you were wrong. And if you thought it was enough to have the money in the bank to pay for the dresses or even the time to devote to the trip to the city, think again mommy. It’s not even enough to love them you realize now because the damage is deep and what this moment calls for is a turn in the road, a left where you normally take a right. And even though you have no idea how to do this you must because what you see now is too much to bear.

Because everything you tried to avoid by denying yourself food, by suppressing your appetite, by daily trips to the gym, and by hundreds and hundreds of dollars in diet aids is now sitting on a padded, floral bench in her underware and socks clutching a crumpled t.shirt against her chest to hide a tummy that is tumbling over her legs, a tubby little tummy that won’t cooperate, that won’t suck in the way she wants it to, a tummy that announces itself from t.shirts and dresses, that topples over swim suits. A tummy that now has your daughter hyperventilating and whimpering, her eyes scrunched up to cast away tears, a tummy that has her hating you and her older sister because you’re witnessing this and because then she doesn’t have to hate herself and her body which she believes is all wrong because at age 9 she’s a size 12, and because she has a sister who at age 12 is a size 10.

Your cell phone is ringing and from the screen you see it’s your lover calling you to wish you a happy mother’s day.

You don’t answer it, you can’t, not because you’re with your daughters, but because you are in a very different place than the place you meet him in. This is not a happy, I had time to shower and make myself smell good and put on that red underwear you like so much and let’s have a drink first and catch up slow and then make our way to the studio to have the best sex of our lives time. This isn’t that time.

This is you trying to zip up a young girl’s dress and tugging at the fabric hoping you don’t rip it, this is you trying to be chipper as you pick yourself up from the dressing room floor saying, “no problem, I’ll be right back with a better size.” This is you walking out of the dressing room each time and chanting to yourself, “breath, breath, breath.” This is you trying to minimize the problem and pay attention to both sisters, even the older one who doesn’t have anything to cry about, who is having the time of her life because she just found the cutest sandals with gold ribbons that wrap around her slender ankles, who is looking lovely in the new blue halter dress that exposes her delicate bird-like shoulders, and her strong legs, a girl who is beginning to realize that she will turn heads at the bat mitzvah next month, a girl who is now leaning against the dressing room wall, arms crossed over her chest and who has just sneered at her little sister to “lose the attitude Zoe,” something that a friend of hers mother said to her last year in a completely different situation, and which crushed her and now sitting here you are struck by how the very things that hurt us lodge within us and are brought out to hurt others, even if you didn’t mean it, even if you thought you’d sufficiently stuffed the pain away or hardened yourself or gotten over it, even if you thought you’d lost the attitude, you realize that the monster that came after you, and now I’m talking about myself, has been patiently waiting all of these years and has now come home to eat my young.

This is you on a diet from the time you were 14 years old, and the grim business of clothes shopping with you mother who mostly kept her mouth shut because she didn’t know what to say as your own torn and safety pinned clothes from all of your weight gain and distress sat huddled in a pile in the corner. Didn’t know what to say to you as you tugged on pants that were too tight, or tried to zip up dresses that were too small, you opting for big, flowing clothes that might highlight the Rennaissance beauty in you but could never hide your terrible failure for not being a Los Angeles skinny, straight-haired well adjusted girl who could just go shopping with her mother without it exposing every flaw in her orbit. This is you remembering a comment that came from the dressing room alongside of yours on one of those trips where some woman said to her companion, did you see, she spit, how awful that skirt looked on that girl? And you knowing that she was talking about you. This is you not hating that woman, but hating yourself instead for your great failure. This is you remembering the little game your dad sometimes played at dinner, asking you and your sister to stand at the table with your legs together and if there was a space between your thighs you could have dessert. This is you not realizing then that your father was the child with the fat thighs, the child whose parents didn’t think he was beautiful enough or smart enough, but you didn’t know this then and so this is you deciding not long afterwards to hide all of your ugliness, not in extra weight, but in a tight, hard-grip body that was a fucking fort knox, this is you throwing away the key.

But enough about you because there’s something more pressing, more dangerous, more frightening at stake here, which is your daughter collapsed on the floral bench in the dressing room, the way she is coiling in on herself, the way she is retreating, the way she has been apprenticing all along, watching you, the way she is making her way to her own fort knox, a place that even you, mommy, won’t be able to find your way into. It’s the way she turned to you in the car a few months ago and out of nowhere asked, “Mommy, are you afraid that I’m going to be fat when I grow up?” even though you’d never mentioned her weight, even though you’d never talked about diets, even though you’d made sure never to say anything bad about your own body in her presence.

It’s what she did see; that you never got anything for yourself at the ice cream shop. That you never eat bread and pasta, and when asked why you shrug it off, saying you don’t like those foods, which is a lie because they are your favorite foods. It’s your obsession with getting to the gym five days a week because it’s the only way you can breath. It’s all the ways you have denied yourself, it’s your secret mantra that the best appetite is no appetite. It’s your deep desire to not need anything from anyone.

It’s the way she turned away from you in the car the other day on the way to speech therapy because you giggled when she emphasized those dastardly R’s that she was practicing, “orange, artichoke, orangutang” and how she thought you were laughing at her but you were only laughing at her sweetness, how much she wanted to get those r’s right. But the power of her turn from you, how she locked you out, her hand on the door of the car like she was going to leap, the same way she is turning now in the dressing room, turning in, turning toward her own orbit of flaws, and how well you know this moment, all the ways you’ve locked yourself out with your hardened grief, which was alright for you, but impossible to watch now in the form of your beautiful nine-year old who you never meant this to happen to, but who has become someone who sneaks food from the kitchen and has perfected the art of chewing without moving her lips, a child who now pulls clothes off of a rack that are meant to hide who she is, big, floppy pieces of fabric, much the same way she began wearing daddy’s t. shirts to school this year because she said she liked them and you wondered whether it was that she liked daddy so much or couldn’t bear herself.

There is a moment here, a chance and you hope it’s not too late, to divert this train wreck that became the cornerstone for your own life, to step in, one tiny movement, one intimate gesture, one chop of your machete to clear a path that in 47 years you have never taken because you needed to keep punishing yourself, because you thought it was your fault, that you were, in your daughter’s own words about herself, “a failure.” There is a moment here, a chance to bring even yourself home, if it’s not too late, and even though you don’t know where this path will lead you or if you can walk it, and even though you don’t know what words come after the ones you think to say now, you open your mouth and you begin in the most loving, most sincere way you can, because you are strong and you love this girl and my god, you love yourself, you do…

“Trust me,” you say, your arms wrapped around her, your mouth breathing warm into her ear, “honey, trust me, I promise you that I am right here and I know what to do.”

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A sweetness breezes in

After nearly a week of awkwardness, a week where the house felt too small, our bed a postage stamp, a week of sideways glances and small blames that had him retreating to the couch, or had us leaving the house without goodbye, the way we’d refer to each other in front of the children, “your father,” I’d say, “your mother,” he’d say. After nearly a week of this, a sweetness breezes in, as if on loan.

It was the way he sat in his office chair and slapped both hands on his thighs motioning you to sit down. And the way you do, the girls in the other room watching a show or doing homework. And his thighs feel warm under his jeans and he puts his arms around you, though your own arms stay crossed.

Why they’re crossed you do not know. Why you have such a hard time loving him, letting him in you do not know.

The other night after a few hours with P., after all the fun was over, he fell asleep beside you, and you listened to the sound of his snores. An hour later you were back at home in your own bed, leg to leg with your husband listening to his snores, and the whole scene could have been completely interchangeable. You could have spent the evening making love to your husband. The men, their snoring, you, what's the difference? And you think that it’s not so much that one is more deserving of your love, but that you princess, you have become quite the choosing committee.

Name it baby, you like to wear the pants around here, you like it better when you’re in charge, when you’re calling the shots, making the rules, and then, well, thank god somebody left the window open, thank god after a week of awkwardness, you acting like his mother, his roommate, reminding him of carpools and bills unpaid, all said with the faintest glare, and him giving it right back in his perfect way; not coming to bed or saying goodnight.

After nearly a week, a sweetness manages to drift in, and he slaps his hands on his thighs and says sit down and it really doesn’t matter if your arms are crossed because you do sit down and you let the weight of you, the grief of not loving, the effort of so much holding and controlling fall away and you realize how tired you are.

And even if later or tomorrow, the way he says it or does it or forgets the carpool, whatever it is, god help you, put down your weapons woman, surrender, cry uncle, whatever you have to do, open a window and pray, pray for a little sweetness.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Excerpt from a letter to a friend

...the truth is, i have gotten closer to love in the last two years; I have had my heart cracked open. I have become softer and more receptive, but not because I was thinking big (baby), but because my path to love was so littered with pain, which was the only way I could be broken of my great defendedness. I didn't get any closer to love because I believed I was worthy of love. I got closer to love the way a bloodied, broken-nosed fighter keeps getting up to take the next punch in the face and then finally falls flat and concedes. I conceded to love.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Producing a Eulogy

“We need more scenes,” I told my dad on the phone. “Good writing is full of live action. You can’t just say, ‘he was a good man, everyone liked him.’ You need real scenes, actual events that show that goodness or else it’s not going to be believable. I need to see you doing more, you know, actually engaging.”

“Mmm,” says Dad. “I see.”

Dad is On My Case.

He wants me to write his eulogy. He’s not so old at 76, and he’s not sick, but he wants the eulogy written before he dies. He wants to see it.

Dad Looks Great On Paper.

He gives away hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to many deserving causes. A champion of social justice, he gets behind progressive issues, has parties at his house to raise money for Universal Health Care. He’s taken care of whole families in Mexico, sending their children to college. He funds documentary films about the West Bank, rents commercial space cheap to non-profit groups like Planned Parenthood. Last year, at his house for dinner I shared a table with an Indian man who heads the Gandhi Peace foundation, a woman who led Sri Lankan village mothers into the jungle demanding that rebel armies release their kidnapped sons, and an American woman who ran a bra factory in Sri Lanka that had profit sharing for the workers. Just another night at my parent’s house. Dad even helped put braces on the teeth of a young Chinese woman he randomly met in Tai Pei, but for the life of me, I’m having a hell of a time coming up with the kinds of scenes that will really make his eulogy rock. The thing is,

People Make Dad Uncomfortable.

“Wally,” my husband said gently on our last day in Hawaii, “I think you should consider coming down to the pool with me.”

“Mmm,” said dad.

”And you might want to put on your bathing suit,” added hubby.

“Oh,” said dad.

“But you wouldn’t have to go in the water,” he said.

“Yes,” said dad.

And that’s how my dad came to be down at the hotel swimming pool on our last day of the trip. It was the annual sighting of grandpa, a man who prefers to spend his sunny, grandchild filled Hawaiian vacation indoors, in a dark office, reading newspapers and books and taking naps. But there he was standing poolside, a newspaper tucked under his arm and talking to a women I’d met a day earlier, a freelance correspondent for CBS, while his six grandchildren looked on, heads cocked, a little startled perhaps at seeing my dad in the light.

“And he looked horrible,” says my mom, laughing. “I thought, ‘who is that old man coming toward us.’ Did you see what he was wearing? That old dome topped Chinese Rice Field worker hat? His face is so narrow and that hat is so tall it just made his face go on forever! And his tummy?” she continued, “it was bulging and he was wearing that awful yellow shirt and he shuffled, did you see him shuffling? Mark was holding onto his hand.”

Dad Felt the Pinch.

“I need it for the eulogy,” I’d said earlier in the day. “We’ve been here nearly two weeks and I need a scene dad, something that will help me lead the piece off, like, ‘I’ll never forget the day dad came down to the pool to visit the grandkids.’ Something like that, but then I need you to actually do something,” I said. “Could you put one of them on your lap or maybe even order a drink?”

“Mmm,” said dad. “I don’t know. I should be at home reading. I have so much to do.”

Dad Tried

He stood there, lots of pool activity going on around him; lots of Marco Polo and vacationing families tossing children and balls from the shallow to the deep. I’d met lots of people in the week we were staying in the hotel next door to my parent’s house and I’d talked a fair amount about my mom and her house, how lucky we were to get to come to Hawaii fairly regularly. “Is your dad still around?” I got this question more than once from new friends because I hardly mentioned him. “Um, yeah,” I’d laugh. “He’s around here somewhere.”

Now he was actually at the pool, but sadly, it wasn’t really scene-worthy, I mean, he stood there looking like a Martian who had just landed. “Sit down, dad,” my sister said. He looked around at his family; his wife, his four children, their spouses, their children, a nanny or two. “Uh,” he said, searching for a place to sit amidst beach towels and smoothies, books and sand toys. “Uh, I don’t know. I think I’ll walk over to that grass over there and read.”

“Bye bye grandpa!” some little tot shouted as he trudged away.

I’d used the eulogy before as a way to get him to engage with the grandkids, who he doesn’t see very often. My nine-year-old had given him coupons for Christmas, little squares of paper inviting him to do things like take her to breakfast, get his back scratched, read together or take a walk. “Whatever you want,” she had told him. Even at nine she was trying to make it easy.

“I can use that for the eulogy,” I suggested, “taking her out for breakfast would be a nice scene.”

“Mmm,” he says.

People Are Talking.

“You need to keep an eye on dad,” my brother had mentioned on the phone a week before the trip. “I got a call from the dentist, the one he’s been going to for years. The nurse said he fell asleep in the chair and woke up disoriented and angry. They’d never seen him like that. I think he’s slipping,” my brother said from his big leather swivel chair at the office. “So watch him, and get back to me.”

Dad Wants His Eulogy Now.

“You don’t have much time,” he’d said. “I mean I could be dead soon.”

Like I said, dad’s not sick or especially old, but he’s giving away all of his money and hopes to be perfectly broke in five years. “Then no one will want anything to do with me,” he says, “and I can die in peace.” I have no idea what he means by this, all I know is that this eulogy is going nowhere and I need help.

“So what kinds of things do you want me to put in there?” I’d asked him. “Is this about your accomplishments or do you want me to say weird things like you know how to use a lasso, or the only food you’ve been known to cook is oatmeal?”

“Mush,” he corrected.

“Or how I’ll always remember that time mom threatened to cut my hair if I didn’t get that rat’s nest of a knot out of it, and you got on your knees and combed mayonnaise and peanut butter through my hair for hours until it came out.”

“I don’t know,” he says uncomfortably.

“I have something that you could use,” my younger sister offers. Apparently my 38-year-old sister had sliced her finger cutting pineapple that very morning, “and he actually kissed my finger,” she says. “It was the most loving thing I can ever remember him doing.”

“I kissed it?” my dad says, coming into the kitchen to re-fill his coffee.

What's Up?

Finally it was time to leave the island. Dad drove us to the airport as I fed him pieces of sushi from the front seat. “It’s more than I can eat,” I promised, “here, have some.” He said he hadn’t eaten all day, but that he wasn’t hungry. He said this as he stuffed sushi into his mouth.

At the curb, after we’d unloaded our bags, I leaned in to kiss him. “Dad,” I started to say, “I love…”

“Save it for the eulogy,” he said, landing a peck on my cheek, and then driving off into the balmy, Hawaiian night.